Generating history, Sara McCoy is the first female plant manager at SRP

Women in breakthrough roles, such as SRP’s first female plant manager are stories of inspiration for all of us.

Meet Sara McCoy: SRP’s first female plant manager

When Sara McCoy first visited Agua Fria Generating Station, she had just earned her college degree and moved to Phoenix looking for a job.

Twenty years later, she would be making history as the first female plant manager at SRP.

Related reads: The stories of other trailblazing women at SRP.

Since mid-July of 2014, McCoy has had the distinction of being SRP’s first female plant manager. Her job was to ensure that the generation units are available and reliable for producing electricity when they’re needed. She also ensures the safety of the employees at the plant and those who visit.

It’s not an easy job, but it’s one her background has prepared her for.

Path to becoming the first female plant manager

McCoy has been trailblazing since she was a kid growing up in Iowa with a dream: to be an engineer. She achieved that goal and earned a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Arizona in 1993.

After that first tour of Agua Fria, she was hired to work in SRP’s Generation Engineering department. Since, she has worked in multiple areas across the company, including Transmission & Generation Operations, System Planning & Performance and Supply & Trading. Most recently, she was director of Electric Reliability Compliance.

“Sara’s out there because she’s highly qualified and highly experienced and can do a great job.”

Fast-forward to 2013, when Mike Hummel, SRP Associate General Manager & Chief Power System Executive, and his team were seeking opportunities to move women into new roles. He said in the past it wasn’t because of a lack of interest in promoting women; it was because of fewer women in the field.

“When I graduated with my engineering degree, there was one woman in my class,” Hummel said. “Now we have a group of young engineers and craftspeople that are women in this organization that we haven’t had before.”

Hummel knew the move to promote McCoy to plant manager wouldn’t be without its challenges but felt she was well-suited for the position.

“Sara’s out there because she’s highly qualified and highly experienced and can do a great job,” Hummel said. “She communicates equally well at all levels of the organization. She has a lot of confidence, and she has a lot of ability to back up that confidence.”

Agua Fria’s training culture

Agua Fria is an important plant in terms of both SRP’s electric system reliability and plant manager training. The plant doesn’t run as often as others, which gives new plant managers more time to see a unit in its down state.

“There’s a lot to learn when a unit is like that,” Hummel said. “But that doesn’t devalue the fact that the plant provides critical capacity to SRP. It’s part of our history. It’s part of our heritage. And when we need it, we need it. On a hot summer day, you’re glad Agua Fria is there.”

Get to know Sara McCoy

  • Family: Married, with a 5-year-old son
  • Hobbies: Building Lego creations with her son and husband, traveling, camping and boating
  • Has a vast knowledge of 1980s movie and music trivia
  • She and her husband rebuilt their CJ5 Jeep together
  • Is a board member of the University of Arizona Alumni Engineering Council

Adding to the benefit, Agua Fria’s employees have a great amount of experience and can help new plant managers learn the ropes. The amount of expertise and coordination that come together to make the plant reliable and safe impressed McCoy.

“There are a lot of very committed and dedicated people here,” she said. “They have certainly been extremely welcoming and helpful in teaching me what they know and what I need to know. They really know this plant, and they really know their part to make it work.”

“She has been able to develop trust quickly with her team at Agua Fria,” said McCoy’s manager Bill Alkema, Senior Director of Valley Generation. This proved to be invaluable to the transition.

“This can often be a challenge for new leadership,” Alkema said. “But her willingness to learn from the team’s expertise is the key.”

A humble legacy

When McCoy talks about her new position, it’s with a humble tone. She doesn’t think about the next rung on the ladder or how she personally can be more successful. Her focus is on SRP’s success.

“Each of us sets an example — good or bad. I strive to set a good one.”

“For me, it’s all about doing this job really well,” she said. “Hopefully I can add my expertise. I enjoy my job and I enjoy working at SRP, and I just want to make all of it successful.”

Hummel said McCoy is a good example for SRP’s next generation of female leaders.

“The young female engineers we have, those in their 20s and 30s, need to see some path forward,” Hummel said. “Seeing what growth opportunities are out there is really important. And those opportunities are unlimited.”

McCoy hopes to leave that and other positive marks on the organization: “Each of us sets an example — good or bad. I strive to set a good one.”

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